At some point when I was off at college, my father had an idea: Since his school was at that point pretty close to half Canadian, perhaps adding some sort of Canada-friendly event to the year would be good.
Since many students already (mostly) went home for a long weekend on Canadian Thanksgiving, Pop (an anglophile at heart) decided on something autumnal but more appropriate for high school-age boys than some sort of Halloween party. My father’s school would celebrate Guy Fawkes, November the Fifth.
Guy Fawkes Night worked pretty well. Released from evening study hall, students would walk up to the top of the ski hill in the dark. Flashlights were distributed, as I recall, but 16-year-olds didn’t have much trouble adjusting to the darkness. At the top of the hill, a giant bonfire had been constructed and was lit, and the dining hall had sent up tanks of hot chocolate and appropriate food. There must have been marshmallows. My father would recite the “Remember, remember” doggerel, whether for an audience or no, and a good time would be had by all—a special night out, a memorable moment.
I assume the students from that era remember Guy Fawkes, and some may even acknowledge those evenings in their own fashion to this day. The practice as a school-wide event seems to have fallen into abeyance some time after Pop retired.
Lately I’ve been visiting lots of middle schools, where traditions are a crucial part of programs designed to help students deeply connect with their communities as one part of truly immersive educations in emotional intelligence. It’s exciting to hear kids talk about the traditional events at their schools, and how much these mean, especially at boarding schools. But day schools and day students crave these experiences, as well; they matter to us as part of our humanity and our connections to and experience of both community and place.
I’m always interested in learning about schools’ idiosyncratic traditions. It turns out that one of my children is writing about his own schools’ traditions for his Folklore & Mythology major in college, so maybe it’s a genetic thing. I’d love to hear stories from anyone who cares to share, and I promise I’ll keep them to myself if you desire and not share with my young scholar.
So, “Remember, remember,” not just the Fifth of November at My Father’s School but also the traditions that enrich life at your school. Or just reflect on the traditions that were part of your own education.
I wish there were a bonfire to attend tonight.